Telling Your Ex-Husband (or Ex-Wife) You Have A New Partner
In my work as a divorce coach, it saddens me how often separated or divorced parents refuse to tell each other when they have a serious new partner in their lives. Oftentimes, it’s not until their child says something, or a friend/family member speaks up, that the unknowing ex finds out. That, or the new partner drives up in the car during drop-off/pick-up . Pftt – surprise!
Not only is this deliberate non-communication NOT in the best interest of the children, it is extremely disrespectful towards the ex-spouse. Let’s look at what drives this bad behavior and ways to rectify it.
Why exes aren’t forthcoming
One of the most common reasons exes remain silent around having new partner is because they fear their ex’s reaction. Maybe the ex will get upset and fly off the handle, maybe she’ll cause a scene, or maybe she’ll have an emotional breakdown.
Moreover, her reaction might be ongoing: What if she meddles and causes conflict? What if she becomes difficult, hostile, and/or interferes with the parenting schedules?
Problem with this thinking: No matter how warranted these fears may seem, they only delay the inevitable: She IS going to find out sooner or later – only now, she’ll be reacting to the fact it was kept hidden from her too. Major quantities of gasoline were just tossed on the fire. tact
Oftentimes it’s the attitude of “my personal life is none of his business” that prompts non-disclosure around a new partner. She figures that because she’s forging a new life for herself, and perfectly capable of judging her new partner’s character and influence on the kids, she doesn’t owe her ex an explanation.
Problem with this thinking: Though “moving on” and carving a new life is definitely an important issue to divorcing adults, it can’t come at the cost of THE most important issue: the children’s wellbeing. The kids’ lives have been tremendously upset because of this divorce and now, more than ever, they need TWO parents who are sensitive to their feelings, as they navigate yet ANOTHER change: a third adult to the scene.
Oftentimes non-disclosure is a deliberate way of trying to hurt an ex-partner, or done with an attitude of “Screw you, you don’t control my life.” This is especially common when exes are pissed about financial obligations (which they feel are unfair) or they’re going through the anger phase of grieving their divorce.
Problem with this thinking: The victim of this anger isn’t just the ex, it’s the kids. I cannot stress enough: Divorce itself is not what damages kids for life, it’s the parents’ mismanagement of their anger and hostility towards one another.
Rectify it NOW
Whatever is driving a person’s non-disclosure – fear, need for privacy, anger, or any combo thereof – he/she needs to remove the spotlight from him/herself, excavate some courage, act like a grown-up, and put the kids’ well-being first. Whether disclosure is done by phone or in a sit down situation, it should be delivered honestly and with kindness, even if it means having to tongue bite so hard it bleeds. If the ex asks fair and reasonable questions , they should be answered in this same vein of spirit. Moreover, the ex deserves reassuring that commitment to the kids is top priority.
If an ex overreacts to the news and becomes angry, upset or threatening, it’s time to stop the discussion (for now), and leave before it becomes a war. It can be revisited again, and hopefully time will enable reactions to calm. Yes, it’s true, the ex might make life difficult for a while. But always remember, this choice was made in the best interest of your kids.
The bottom line is that divorce requires both parents to become BIGGER PEOPLE – to kill negativity with kindness; to turn the other cheek more often than not; to cultivate copious sums of patience and compassion and integrity; and to exercise the Golden Rule: treat others as you would have them treat you. There’s a good chance that one ex will be ‘bigger’ than the other – that he/she will have to set and maintain the standard. But again, at the end of the day, the kids are worth it.
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